Extrapolating into the Future While Walking and Ranting Through America’s Command Economy Politics.
The Battle of the Centuries
Far-reaching ideological battles are concealed in, and over shadowed by policy issues of a moment.
As corona virus explodes uncontrollably in the midwest and fires ravage the west coast, on the coast of Southern Maine, we are experiencing a real estate boom in properties selling at all price points.
I marvel at the ability of some leaders to think on their feet, turn on a dime, and make decisions that reverberate across the world. Remote working is becoming a main stream institution, overnight, giving cause to extrapolate how remote working will transform ideologies and vice versa. While the term “remote workers” implies workers who derive their primary income from a large corporation, remote workers are also a subset of independent contractors and businesses in a home, modelled on the family farm, that mainstay of rural living.
In Maine, anyone working in their own space is an independent contractor, a small business that You own. Will there be proposals to change that fundamental concept in the interest of maintaining a semblance of employee-employer relationships, as opposed to a business to business relationship? Or, will remote working instigate changes in laws and ordinances more accommodating to businesses in a home, in general? Will business in a home earn a spot on economic development and housing maps? What kind of cultural change will emerge from this new world ordering?
How will remote working change the thinking of community and economic development? How will remote working be visualized by those writing regulations? Will there be a separate class of businesses in a home designed for large corporate relationships and opposed to small independent ones?
The Cottage Industry
In Germany, the government rushes to pass new legislation making it legal to work from one’s home. I am shocked to learn that working in the home was ever illegal in Germany.
I googled for information on when working from home became illegal in Germany but it was easier thought than done.
Instead my search produced an interesting quoted passage from THE PAMPHLET COLLECTION OF SIR ROBERT STOUT: VOLUME 85
Sir Robert Stout was the both the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of New Zealand, at separate times, during the 19th century. The entire Robert Stout collection is published by the Victoria University of Wellington Library
The excerpt is written before the industrial revolution. It tells about the educating establishment of the Gewerbe-Museum at Vienna that provided training in the production of crafts that can be made in a home. At that time cottage industries were in decline due to factories that could produce a similar product using fewer hands. In response, the competitive edge for repopulating rural regions is envisioned as creative artisan design.
The effort at reform consists in establishing trade schools where modelling and drawing hold an important place and in which the young people can learn new and attractive designs for their home-made wares, thus securing their sale. They also acquire the power of expressing their own ideas in designs, and so obtain control of their own inventions. THE PAMPHLET COLLECTION OF SIR ROBERT STOUT: VOLUME 85
The story goes on to describe the program at Gewerbe-Museum at Vienna run by Dr. Exner, with two plans, one which focuses on developing a product for a commercial market, as they would say today, and boasts of how many pieces of student work were sold.
The object of the Museum is to collect examples of the best products in every trade for purpose of instruction.
The story moves to the population problem in Austria, there being a great migration into the cities that was depopulating rural villages as the size of the populations had not changed. Once again the solution to repopulating rural areas is the ability to design creative new forms.
Inquiry into the causes of this movement has brought out the fact that the peasants of these villages have lost the market for their baskets and other wares because their Swiss and French neighbors, who have had abundant schools of industry, have devised new and more attractive forms for the same wares. The peasants of Austria were unable to compete because, through their ignorance of design, they were confined to the old and unsalable forms, and, with the fatuous haste so often seen, crowd the cities in the vain hope of bettering their lot
This pre-industrial revolution thinking resembles the vision for future of my family’s enterprise, Andersen Design and the economic development assets we inherited. Our assets can potentially make it possible for some to locate rurally by providing a means to develop an income working in a studio attached to their home, but we do not today have the support of community leadership. That is why I write my own blog, to engage a conversation that is otherwise missing. It has to start somewhere, so the meeting of the outsider minds is hereby called to order, in my community and everywhere.
The idea of reinventing our production as an independent studio network has been our operating concept long before corona virus but just happens to be perfect for developing an income and career while sheltering in place during corona virus. It is consistent with our midcentury beginnings when My Dad bucked the trend in plastics and started our company with the notion of creating a hand made product affordable to the middle classes. At the same time he took a different path from the contemporary midcentury designers of his era when he started his own production company rather than designing for the large ceramic factories then located in the western hemisphere.
Sometimes my father would question his choices and say that he should have gone the corporate route and I would say “But then we wouldn’t have this!”. I inherently valued the small intimate studio working environment over the corporate world, but our line grew much too large to be produced in a singular studio and so I landed on the idea of a network of independently owned studios, recreating the environment I loved and in which production as an art form can thrive.
Who-What Gives Voice to a Class?
In recent times independent contractors are portrayed as an exploited class, focusing on the fact that independent contractors take on the expenses of the business that they own, parlayed into exploitation by not including the advantages of owning your own business, which in a nutshell gives you more control over your own destiny. Like any other terms of agreement its a tradeoff with advantages and disadvantages.
In Maine, if a person works in their own space, they are legally categorized as independent contractors. I thought it was federal law, but I happened upon the Oregon laws, which are more complicated, indicating that the questions that I asked earlier in this story are already answered by some existing state enactments. If every state has a different set of laws governing independent contractors, it is another level of complexity to factor in for those relocating and planning on working remotely.
It is wildly challenging to form a picture of how each state handles laws governing remote working. People often do not think of these things when they are purchasing a property and make assumptions instead, such as the artist who purchased a house at Ocean Point. Maine, thinking he would be able to teach a small class in his home but was denied permission by the town selectmen. One can no longer grow a business in the home in Boothbay, Maine as my parents did. The ordinances are designed to cap the growth of businesses in the home.Businesses in a home do not have a representative voice to counter the forces of central management that are the ultimate authors of our local ordinances, which I say based on the observation that some passages of out town plan have been copied word for word from state statutes.
If there is to be reconsideration of the restrictive regulations it will require a group effort to put pressure on the town leaders, who are not really town leaders but an extension of regional organizers functioning as subsidiaries of Maine’s corporate state.
States Compete in a New Arena
Laws and regulations governing remote working, independent contractors, and business in a home may become a new area of competition between states. For decades competition between the states has targeted large corporations. Consequently, it is hard to x number of “quality jobs”, in Maine defined exclusively as jobs paying higher than average wages and benefits. With corporations downsizing their headquarters and remote working on the rise, a change in State strategies is on the horizon.
In the historically long ideological debate over who owns the means of production, it is an ironic twist that a class who does own its own means of production is portrayed as exploited, but not surprising, as the emphasis on owning the means of production has never dwelled on the expense of doing so. The two go hand and hand. Capitalization makes it or breaks it.
Today capitalization is controlled by a power elite who not only manipulates the distribution of capital but also the production of fiat money that fuels it.
Governments are the means of production of fiat currency, distributed into an economy where in free enterprise competes with a wealth distribution economy which has a greater access to debt free capital, not so readily available to the free enterprise sector. Which sector can be projected to grow at a faster rate under such terms of financialization?
The wealth redistribution economy has become so large that it even the non-profit sector competes in the free market economy, often changing long established rules of engagement of the free enterprise economy. In the hand crafted industry, one might see a public-private non-profit organization charge a jury fee to show work to the buyers of a retail store, or artisans are charged a monthly retainer by a non-profit retail store that takes work on consignment, or the work of students who have paid an organization for studio space is automatically sold in a fundraiser for the organization.
Once I asked one of these institutions why they were changing long established rules of free market engagement. On the phone, the voice of a sweet young woman replied “because we serve the public good”, with the unstated but obvious implication, that out company, a big bad micro-business operating in the free enterprise economy, did not serve a public good, although we are of the class and category that the non-profit’s purpose purported to serve.
Evolutions in Marketing
When my parents started out, they made a critical leap by entering their work in the first New York Gift Show, when products were displayed in hotel rooms, before the NYC Gift Show moved into a large exhibition space.
The gift shows were a productive venue until they multiplied and dispersed the buyers market across too many locations. At the same time the internet was growing as Main Street, malls and department stores, and mail catalogs were falling into decline.
Todays online marketing uses applied data science, and social media. A favorite venue, Medium, is a place of many voices telling their own stories, and makes for a source of extraordinary insight into the world at large and small. By participating on Medium, and some other venues, a source of demographic information emerges through the profiles of followers, producing more information than one can glean from data compiling programs. Medium sends a notification for every new follower which includes their profiles. and the stories they write. This is a much better and more individualized demographic picture than mere age, race, gender, economic status.
I envision the new marketing as working with a stable of content providers of unique personas covering diversified subject matter and creating a community of engagement, online and off as circumstances permit.
As one gathers a following, cultural themes emerge. A common thread in my followers is that of bucking the dominance of super organizations imposing rules as a one way street in their terms of agreement. This promises to be an emerging social conversation as the work environment re-organizes in accommodation of remote workers, a subset of both independent contractors and businesses in a home.
As I write about economic development and advocate for complexity over central management, I see that interest reflected in my followers, such as Bill Fulton who describes himself as “ Author, urban planner & former politician from Auburn, NY. and once Mayor of Ventura, CA. Planning Dir, San Diego and now Dir of Kinder Inst at Rice U. in Houston.”
Bill Fulton’s story How My Hometown’s Failed Urban Renewal Strategy Shaped Me As An Urbanist tells of Auburn, NY., where Bill was raised, as an organically organized community that could serve as a model community targeted by today’s urban designers, before malls changed the community. before the internet drove out the mall and environmental issues impacted community design and corona virus is changing everything.
Auburn — a city then barely over 30,000 people, hosted a great deal of cultural diversity of the sort that comes about naturally when a community grows from the roots up through the natural talents and interests of its inhabitants, distinguished from the megalopic town of Ubiquity that is furthered by the central management of today’s everywhere culture.
The new tech sector accounts for 10% of the economy, but in much economic development talk, it is the entire focus. In my local community after a state inventory rated us as over served in broadband capacity, the broadband committee raided the town economic development funds to hire a wealth consultant to do another report which the arrived at the same conclusion .
The broadband survey was a joint-venture between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor selectmen. Last September, both boards contracted with the firm for $18,000 for a comprehensive survey. The towns used $7,500 from a Maine Community Foundation grant and $5,250 each from their respective Joint Economic Development Committee accounts. Both towns are also interested in providing residents with fiber optic technology for more reliable and faster service. Lippold reported building a fiber optic infrastructure would cost slightly less than $6 million.
The $18,000 consultant then gave some very conventional advice on the obvious steps to take next. I do not know why the council could not figure it out for themselves. Even though they are supposed to represent the whole community, they are clearly concerned only with advancing the upper crust, but they are using tax payer dollars derived from property owners at all strata of the economy.
My theory is that the town selectmen believe that they are not only hiring a consultant but purchasing an authority figure to mandate that what they want must be done, kind of like a corporate CEO, replacing the natural authority once conferred on of the inhabitants of the community. They have been pursuing this project for a very long time, without revealing what the real agenda is. Now that there is a wealth consultant, through his voice they have started talking about a three million dollar project, which may be only co-incidentally half of the six million dollar figure originally quoted by the consultant. It sounds like a public-private partnership but they have not said so.
It is no longer only the state operating as corporation engaging in partnerships with private special interests but municipalities as well. This is not surprising in a state which has actually turned a whole region of municipalities into a development corporation through a special act of legislation.
The Company Town
The chartering of a region of Maine municipalities into a development corporation seems to be a little known fact, and perhaps intentionally hidden, possibly because the Maine Constitution, Article IV, Part Third, Section 14 prohibits the Maine Legislature from chartering corporations by special acts of legislation which is exactly how the Kennebec Regional Development Authority was chartered.
I came upon the KRDA a number of years ago and as I recall it was then found in a normal search of the Maine Revised Statutes, but today I could not find it’s charter through a Maine Statute Search and so I returned to my old documents to find the link which brought the charter up on an oddly colored background, not the usual blue background of the Maine statutes.
This seemed quite unusual so I did a bill search using the word “Kennebec” and the 118th session, which produced confirmation that the bill had been enacted as an emergency measure signed by then Governor, John R. McKernan Jr. It is filled under Chaptered Law as a downloadable word document, and is the strangest thing I have ever come across in my studies of the Maine statutes. Is it a law? Or is it a shadow law?
Chaptered Law ACTPS
The information I found confirmed the enactment but did not give a history. I knew that the KRDA was still operative because of this recent article dated September 30, 2020, but was it still a state chartered development corporation composed of a region of municipalities? I searched for the Kennebec Region Development Authority on the Secretary of State’s corporate name search and found nothing. That tells me it is not a private corporation since the State corporate name search excludes state corporations but should include private ones.
The above linked article is published in Maine Biz, which never has anything critical to say about the functioning of the public-privately managed economy of Maine. The article is a typical example of how economic news of the State is reported in Maine, always wrapped in the packaging of a success story to the degree that it is possible. The story tells us that big project of the KRDA,a business park called First Park, is finally paid in full on the purchase of First Park, twenty years later, but after twenty years, the promise of 3000 jobs appears to be short by at least 2000 jobs.The byline says the corporation is working to market the remaining lots at the 285-acre campus. but never says how many lots there are and how many remain. Much is made of a dog park at the business park that once was meadowland, giving pause to wonder which would the dogs prefer, the park or the meadowland ? The board is allowing residential units. Will they be allowed to be businesses in a home? How else does one translate residential units into jobs?
At the time I first came across this corporation, there were a number of municipalities trying to get out of their contract with the KRDA but it was not reported in the state-wide media, only in the Kennebec Journal. That is too long a story for this post but I posted my original research here, which is very long and detailed. Here, I will leave it at that under the category of “very very strange”. I wonder if people buying property in the affected municipalities are aware that they are buying property in a development corporation, not in a conventional town. In connection with this, it should be noted that the recent attempt by the State legislature to take over the ownership of power companies in Maine had a provision in it to use the private property of Maine residents as loan equity for the forced sale of private utilities to the state. I was the only media to point this out which is found in this post.
Back to the Present
Installing fiber-optics infrastructure is a private company expense, and a very expensive one. Rural areas are not densely populated so the return on investment must be small. If the town takes it on, property taxes go up, and it might be categorized as intentional gentrification. If the town has fiber optics it will attract highly paid remote workers. One wonders how this has become a town expense, especially when the hidden player is the large corporation who employs the remote workers. A town taking on the role of a development corporation subsidizing the infrastructure used by remote employees working for large private corporations may be the next chapter of the corporate city-state but can we say WHOA. and give ourselves a chance to consider the other options, before a town becomes a company?
Exclusionary Policies Paid For On the Public Dime
A similar group, calling itself an economic development council, spent $79,000.00 of public money to hire a New York firm to write a business plan for our region. The report recommended museums. At the time I had applied to a powerful fiscal sponsor in the arts in hopes of qualifying our design and production enterprise as a social enterprise so that we could apply for non-profit funding as a artist-designer production company.
The fiscal sponsor organization rejected us citing my use the word “production” in the application. The board, with whom I never directly engaged, claimed if one uses the word “production”, it means that one is only in it for the money but there is no definition that I am familiar with that says so, not published on the fiscal sponsor’s site or anywhere else. It’s news to me!
Andersen Design is a free market enterprise that makes its income from producing, but as I said in the application, if we were only in it for the money, we would have our products produced in a developing nation, in conformity with the global world order which designates the making of hand made crafts to the developing world, excepting those sold to the wealth market.
I wondered why a powerful fiscal sponsor for the arts so concerned about monetary motivations, accepts funding from foundations of corporations obligated to its stockholders to prioritize profits?
An S-Corporation without shareholders is not obligated to prioritise profit. We can function as a benefit corporation, without asking anyone’s permission.
Let it be said; My motivation in preserving this enterprise for future generations is an outgrowth of my love for an engaging work process.
The fiscal sponsor said that we could apply either as a school or a museum. If we applied as a school we would not be allowed to teach how to make our products, excepting that we could teach how to make our original glaze and body recipes, which comprise some of our essential intellectual property.
I opted for a museum, making sure to present a hypothetical budget in which we would lose a great deal of money, realizing that when I projected breaking even in my figures for our original application, it must have confirmed to the board that we were only in it for the money.
We were approved to be fiscally sponsored as a museum.
Taxed but Not Represented
The museum is an interesting idea but I lacked experience in how to go about it and so I naively went to the local economic development council for support where I was promptly told to get lost- they can’t help individual businesses, they said, as they used my property tax dollars in support of a project revolving around a super funded non-profit which does not pay property taxes.
Why did the economic council spend $79000.00 dollars on a remote consultant, only to ignore the consultant’s advice? Is it because other people’s money is so easy come, easy go, for the masters of the wealth redistribution economy?
Or, was there was a grand strategy at work. A Museum of American Designer Craftsmen would encourage a sector of the economy, not considered compatible with a suburban bedroom community for the State’s nearby corporate welfare city, a tax payer subsidized town where incomes are steadily creeping upward in compliance with corporate welfare terms of agreement and exceed the income of the surrounding region.
KRDA is a similar business park idea, but, as far as I can determine, without the Pine Tree Zone tax incentives. More on Pine Tree Zones here.
In pre-industrial revolution days, a company like Andersen Design with hundreds of original and classic designs and many original glazes and decorating techniques would have been counted as a valuable economic development asset. In the global world order, our assets are valuable in the developing world, correlating with way most of the western ceramic industry moved production to foreign labor markets in the 1980’s.
Andersen Design is unique because we did not export production, remaining rooted in our commitment to the process of making ceramics and a belief that the work process matters. Work that engages the individual meaningfully, centers the individual’s life in well beingness. Hand made production is not a mass industry but society needs to provide spaces for all, not only most people. It is to public benefit when industry diversity exists to serve the diversity of the faculties of man. It is not to the public benefit when an outsider class is created because only those who work in state-targeted industry are given consideration and value.
The world is at a new turning point, not only because of changes initiated by corona virus. Climate change looms over everything as the world is running on unlimited fiat currency while bitcoin is competing for dominance as a currency based on a limited supply. The definition of money itself is under revision in an age of escalating wealth divide. The industrial revolution replaced the cottage industries and now is being replaced by automation. The meaning of work, and money feels like it has been thrown into a giant blender and no one knows what will come out of it!
I don’t have answers to the big questions but I do feel that there is no reason to adhere to the same ideas as before. From my perspective of hand made production, I say since the industrial revolution is running out, lets bring back the cottage industry and make things by hand again, just because it is an engagingly awesome work process and humanity needs fulfillment through work for its well being.
In designing a system of checks and balances, the Founders of the United States Constitution considered the character of humanity but could not predict or control the collective quality of human character, as it evolves over time, or of the individual character of those in power. The character of a man ultimately determines how well a system works for the common good, or not. To that cause it is important to examine how different systems form the character of social interactions. A hierarchy culture breeds one kind of social interactions and a free enterprise system another.